Bookpleasures.com today welcomes as our guest, author, artist, historian, entrepreneur, Vietnam Veteran, television & movie actor, John Rixey Moore.
John acted in Falcon Crest; One Life to Live; The Young and The Restless; The Bold and The Beautiful, Clear and Present Danger; A Home of Our Own; Executive Decision.
He has also been the on-camera announcer for over 500 network commercials.
John can be seen from time to time being interviewed on The History Channel on crop circle phenomenon and on the subject of UFO's.
An amateur historian, he enjoys walking ancient sites in Europe and maintains an extensive collection of antique books and household displays of medieval weapons. He lives in the Los Padres National Forest of Southern California, where he paints and occasionally enjoys firing his collection of antique cannons.
Upon graduation from the University of Virginia with a degree in Philosophy at the height of the Vietnam War, John enlisted in the military and joined the Special Forces and served in Vietnam where he ran deep penetration interdiction and assassination missions for the CIA into Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam.
While recovering from both spiritual and physical wounds after the war, John lived in London and at different times worked on a archeological dig in Northern Scotland and at a monastery where he was able to begin putting the war behind him. Along with his work at the monastery, he was able to spend many hours in the library with its huge collection of old books and coal burning fire places.
He has written about some of the unusual personalities he encountered there, as well as the rewarding atmosphere of philosophical speculation with men whose surprising physical strength, taste for fine single malt whisky, and ready, fair-minded good humor provided lasting inspiration.
With reluctance he eventually moved on, taking a job as a rock drill operator in a large industrial gold mine in Ontario, Canada, where the dangers of the adventure ultimately began to outweigh the benefits of both the hazard pay and the company of many singular personalities. He returned to the States and to graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania where he took an MBA in Marketing and Entrepreneurial Development at Wharton.
Following graduation, he entered a consulting partnership with a friend but was soon cast in a contract role on a daytime television series, and for the next 12 years balanced two careers, one in business and one in the arts.
During that time, he qualified for the U.S. bobsled team and competed in the Olympics as well as a dozen world cup competitions both in the United States and in Europe. He has rafted the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon 4 times, and with a crew of three others, sailed a trimaran across the Atlantic from Plymouth, England to Newport, Rhode Island, in the process establishing two world records for multi-hulls. He has flown his Beech Bonanza across the country over twenty times as well as up and down both coasts, has driven his homemade car across the U.S. twice, and is still working to improve the design.
His acting career eventually took him to California, where he lives, writes, studies lines, and practices the fiddle in the mountains north of Los Angeles and drives into the city for business. He runs a writers group that meets each week in Studio City, and he has had two memoirs published. Hostage of Paradox, is an account of the terrible months he served in Special Operations in Southeast Asia, and Company of Stone, is about his time in the monastery and then the gold mine. As he says, “I want to live the kind of life and be the kind of person who deserved to survive that year.”
Norm: Good day John and
thanks for participating in our interview.
What was your training as an actor and when did you first perform professionally?
John: I was in school plays starting in about the 6th grade right through university and grad school, never really believing I'd ever get a chance to act professionally, let alone make a good living at it. I was introduced years later, after the military and starting work for a small consulting business, to an agent in NY who decided to take a chance on me and started sending me out on auditions for TV commercials.
Nothing happened for most
of a year, and then one day I had auditions for 7 national
commercials on the same day, and I was booked for all seven. Four of
them were made into multiple versions, and suddenly, overnight
really, I had some 20 network commercials on the air. I quickly
decided to get myself into some acting classes and enrolled in two:
The Weis- Barron Commercial school, which was very good and a lot of
fun, and Stella Adler, both in NY. Each led to others, and I was soon
cast on a soap opera.
Norm: Are you conscious of any particular influences on your acting?
John: Oh, yes. Life. I think people who have had some years of life experience, generally speaking, make more convincing actors than those who are purely products of acting "techniques" classes. Imagination is enriched by life experience, and acting is all about the imagination. One has to create for him/herself the separate reality of the scene, and if you've been out in the world for awhile, you have a more varied internal landscape upon which to draw than might those with a more limited set of experiences. Some people, though, simply have a gift—that indefinable ingredient in their natures that equips them preternaturally for the craft. I wish I were one of them.
Norm: What was your most challenging role and why?
John: I once played a game warden in a film shot in Africa and had to use a South African accent. I've always had a pretty good ear for accents, but that one is very hard, and the film was full of established English talent who knew what the real thing sounded like.
Each day I'd get to the set haunted by the fear that I'd see the others snickering up their sleeves. One night we had to do a scene with a live lion. The animal had been used in a lot of movies and was, we were told, "used to people". Well, I'm used to hamburgers, too.
The English film star and I showed up at dusk to do this scene, but we were both quite intimidated by the preparations for the introduction of the lion. A large fence had been constructed around the set, and guards armed with both raw meat and rifles were posted at intervals all around the outside of the fence, ready to lure or shoot through it. At last, well after dark, the truck carrying the lion backed up to a carefully-constructed opening in the fencing and released an enormous male lion onto this outdoor set. We were told to stay perfectly still in the camp chairs arranged for the shoot and simply let the lion move around the space and sniff us if it wanted to. We did as we were told, but our fears kept trying to push against the pure irreality of our situation.
At one point in the scene, while the lion was lying nearby like the pet it was supposed to be (that in itself took about an hour), we were supposed to be alerted by the approach of visitors. A noise from somewhere in the surrounding dark was to be our signal to break off our conversation and peer out into the night. Just before the noise was made, something spooked the lion, and the animal suddenly jumped up and began that deep, primordial growl. The guards unslung their weapons, other actor and I both jumped, he tried to stammer out his lines, and I could hear the tremble in his voice, and I of course completely lost my accent! We eventually got through the scene, and the lion was put back into the truck, but my most challenging role was a single scene!
Norm: How do you work
John: I study the situation the character is suppose to be in. What is his motivation? What exactly does he want in the scene? What has led up to this moment, and how would I react to this situation if it were really me in it? There should be a goal for everyone in a scene. If it isn't clear from the writing what that goal is (in such cases the scene is often re-written on the spot) then it's important to make up a goal to serve the situation.
If you play the scene with a specific
goal in mind, you will at least be more convincing than if you leave
the direction of the scene to some other character. It's also
important to look at the background of your character whether its
actually written in or not. Why are you in this situation and what
might be percolating beneath the surface of everything you say?
Every scene, whether drama or comedy, requires conflict. This doesn't
mean that the characters have to be fighting or arguing, it
simply means they are on differing agendas. Even a couple who is
kissing is much more interesting to watch if we know that
he suspects her of being a spy, and she's trying to find out
from him where the partisans are hiding her brother in the
mountains. Hidden agendas will always make a scene more interesting,
so I look for some, perhaps unspecified, goal in every scene.
Norm: How has your acting informed your writing?
John: That is a very good question. Some writing is strictly informative, like text books. They present the information with simple declarative, informational sentences. However, if you want your writing to reach a larger audience, the language is greatly enriched by lending the facts the emotional life they deserve.
Not everybody thinks, but everybody feels. When I first started to write the memoir of my experiences in Vietnam, I was vigorously re-living the events in order to get it right, but I was using strictly informative language. A good friend pointed out that the chapters were pretty much devoid of emotion. I was just giving the facts. He advised me to go through it and remember it all as an actor would. It made all the difference. I threw my mind back to some things that, because I was still attached to the events emotionally, I had either avoided describing altogether, or had under-described. When I included my own emotional reaction to these terrible memories, it completed the depiction of events in their totality. People who would normally not read a book on that subject wrote to me with genuine appreciation for taking them through the events on a deeply personal level.
Michelangelo once said that sculpture was the perfect art form because it was three dimensional. I think writing shares that distinction, because in a few sentences one can evoke the totality of an experience--the event itself, along with what things sounded like, how things smelled, and how one felt about it all before, during, and afterwards. How it made you feel and how the memory of it informs your thinking today.
Norm: Could you
tell our audience a little about your two memoirs, Hostage
of Paradox and Company of Stone?
John: Hostage of Paradox is the memoir of my experiences in Vietnam. I was a sergeant in the Special Forces (the Green Berets) assigned to a super-secret unit that was running missions directly for the CIA deep into Cambodia, Laos, and even into North Vietnam. I was not prepared for this work, either in training or psychologically. I was placed in charge of a team of Chinese mercenaries, called Nungs, who knew a lot more than I did about not only jungle operations but also the psychology and customs of the enemy. I was really only a nominal leader; it was those Chinese who kept me alive. We ran intediction and reconnaissance missions deep into countries that no one knew at the time we were operating in, and we had a terrible attrition rate.
The book actually came out of realizing how many astonishingly close calls I had. It was not so much a matter of near misses in combat, although there was some of that too, so much as an almost incredible set of external circumstances that combined to let me sneak through. It all taught me a great deal about being a person. The book was a Pulitzer nominee last year and, though it didn't get that prize, it did win in the USA Books Book of the Year memoir division.
The second book, Company
of Stone, is about the year I came back. It was pretty unusual. My
parents lived in London at the time, when I came home with a fresh
bullet wound in my hip. My mother suggested that I keep active and
showed me an ad in the London Times for diggers and categorists on an
archaeological dig way in the north of Scotland. I went to the
interview, was accepted, and was soon on the way to Scotland. The dig
was interesting, but my wound worked against my ability to do my
share, so I left and began what turned into a two day and one night
painful hike through a series of driving sleet and rain storms. Late
the second day, I came across the entrance to a monastery and went in
to seek shelter from the next storm.
The place proved to be so
interesting that I stayed for almost five months. The book takes you
through that experience, where I met some of the most unusual and
interesting guys I've ever known. The Abbot eventually, very gently,
threw me out, and I ventured on to Canada, where I spent the rest of
that year working as a rock drill operator in a large industrial gold
mine in Ontario. Those guys, too, were very unusual.
They all had a
past, at least one was a war criminal I'm sure, and none of them
would be remembered except in my book. In all, both the monastery and
the gold mine were peopled by misfits of various kinds, yet were so
interesting that they resonate in my life still today.
Norm: How did you
decide you were ready to write the memoirs?
John: About 20 years ago I joined a writing group as one of the actors who read aloud the works of the writers each week. After serving as a reader for about a year, I began to feel I should try to write something. I began tentatively with some amusing short stories and got so much encouragement from the group that I thought I should try to write something more substantive and gradually tried to describe some of the experiences in Vietnam. The group was very supportive and encouraged me to continue with the effort. The result several years later was the publication of the two books.
Norm: Did you write the memoirs to express something you believe or was it just for entertainment?
John: Another good question, and one I never really thought about. I started out just to see if I could do it. I wanted to describe the indescribable for people who had not been there. I wanted to do what I could to make those experiences come alive for those who stayed home. I felt that it might some day prove important for my family to know what happened. As I worked through it, I began to see that there was a kind of theme, and some of true mystery of what we were doing in Southeast Asia clarified a bit, thanks in part to the passage of time. I suppose it is a coming of age story to a degree, but if anyone sees it that way, it was certainly not a reason I wrote the book. It was definitely a maturing experience thought not one I would have chosen in a hundred lifetimes.
Norm: Did you read any special books on how to write?
John: No. I never have, although my long association with writers groups has surely sensitized me to the writer's life.
Norm: What would you like to say to actors and writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share?
John: Wow! I have never felt that I was qualified to give any advice, but I do strongly believe that one must look at both his/her life and choices with as much honesty as possible.
An actor's performance
should be honest, a writer's works should be from the heart, whether
a fiction story writer or nonfiction. A creative person
should keep creating, whether on a professional level or purely for
the fun of it. Some great careers have come out of creative
individuals with no thought of turning their talent toward the wider
world at first. I always tell the writers in my group that anything
really worth doing is worth doing poorly. Just do it. You'll get
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your memoirs?
John: The books are available on Amazon and I can be found on the web. I have taken myself off Facebook, simply because I find it hard to keep up with my part of the deal. I don't spend much time on the Internet and barely keep up with email.
Norm: What is next for John Rixey Moore?
John: Well, I have a friend who worked deep in black programs at Area 51 for over 20 years. He has some astonishing things to say, some of it he has been given permission to talk about to limited publics. I may try to write about some of his experiences, but this idea is tentative depending on a numb of factors, including certain risks.
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
John: This has been a pretty thorough interview. I don't know whether or not I'd have liked to talk about the war. I have opinions about it of course, but the conflict is probably best forgotten. It was not one of our country's proud moments in history. But to generalize, I believe that humans have the strange quality of finding it difficult to learn new behaviors unless there is pain involved. Social pain, financial pain, or physical pain.
People can be force fed the lessons of history over and over, but they don't get it until something happens that actually hurts them. I've tried to live the kind of life since the war that might make me the kind of person who deserved to have survived it. That's not a bad rule of life even without a war to teach it, but there is no question that the war and all its misery and pain compelled the decision (and it was a specific decision) to be a better person.